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Gateway students lauded for teen-dating violence awareness video

| Friday, June 20, 2014, 3:41 p.m.
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Members of the Gateway Video Club pose for a photo with Gary Cuccia, founder of the Demi Brae Cuccia Awareness Organization, during the filming of the documentary. From left, are Alexander Miles Jones, Dominic Varlotto, Victoria Kiesling, Cuccia, Heaven Serrano and Mack Nelson.

The Gateway Video Club members took a shot at changing their community, and received an award for their efforts.

A five-minute documentary film about teen-dating violence earned the club first place in the “Take A Shot at Changing the World” contest and a $3,000 reward, which the students donated in part to a local charity.

Steeltown Entertainment Project's Youth & Media Program, based in Pittsburgh, announced the winners of its fourth annual digital-media contest this month to an audience of students, educators and family members at the Loews Waterfront Theatre.

Gateway's documentary, “If Only We Had Known,” told the story of Gary Cuccia and Jodi Miceli, whose daughter Demi Brae Cuccia was killed in 2007 as a result of teen-dating violence.

More than 120 students from 17 schools participated in the contest, which challenged middle and high school students to produce videos focused on social change.

“I think this contest helps them realize that films are really powerful tools,” Steeltown Youth & Media Program Manager Rachel Shepherd said.

Members of the Gateway Video Club worked an average of eight hours a week — for about five months — to produce, shoot and edit the video, said executive producer Heaven Serrano, who graduated from Gateway this month.

“There were a lot of personal hours being put in to the film,” Serrano said.

“But we didn't think we were going to win.”

The film crew comprised 13 Gateway students, so organizing the staff was a task in itself, Serrano said.

But once the production got rolling, excitement among the crew started to build, she said.

“As ideas came to life in the film and we got to interview the family, the entire crew became more enthusiastic about it and they wanted to help more and more.”

The documentary is one of many public service presentations within the Gateway community in recent years to shed light on the realities of teen-dating violence.

Through plays, assemblies and passed legislation, Cuccia's family has helped to inform the community at large about potential warning signs of teen-dating violence.

“By making this documentary, we hoped to tell Demi's story, as well as her parents' story, in a way that will show people everywhere how much the Cuccia family has changed the lives of many people,” video club supervisor Juanita Kollar said.

The students backed their sentiment by donating $1,000 of prize money to the Demi Brae Cuccia Awareness Organization and Demi Brae Memorial Fund.

The video club received $1,500 to purchase video club hooded sweatshirts and Serrano received $500 to help pay for college.

Serrano will attend Brigham Young University-Idaho, where she'll pursue a degree in psychology and continue filmmaking as a member of the university's video club.

She would not be the first “Take a Shot” contestant to pursue filmmaking after high school, Shepherd said.

“If filmmaking is going to be an industry in Pittsburgh, we need to start training people to be part of that industry.”

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or klawson@tribweb.com.

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